Are Infertility and Grief a Transformative Process?

There may come a time, a transformation process, following diagnosis and treatment of infertility when one begins to feel that there are many paths to parenthood which are not dependent on biological reproduction. The uncertainty and physical intrusiveness of infertility treatments may begin to offer more stress than hope for a viable pregnancy. The “adoption option” begins to look more attractive as a means of building a family. At this point, if the path to adoption has begun, a feeling of relief that infertility treatment has ceased may be sensed.

Given one’s background, temperament, and upbringing, there are a myriad number of emotional responses to infertility. In turn, those responses will likely carry over into feelings about adoption. For those women, who have always desperately wanted to experience pregnancy and childbirth, the grieving process may be more intense and prolonged than for those who have not particularly yearned for the experience. Some individuals are not deeply tied to the idea of seeing their own faces reflected in their children’s and those people may have an easier time adjusting to the idea of adoption. Further, some men and women may have to resolve feelings of “failure,” that they could not achieve pregnancy, and in a sense, that their bodies “betrayed” them. For men, issues of masculinity and “carrying on the bloodline” may come into play.

I would like to stress that infertility is a lifelong issue; it does not simply “go away” once the decision to adopt has been made. The door is never fully closed on the grief or loss inherent in infertility. When one’s adoptive children reach childbearing age, the issue may come up again. When grandchildren are born, one may look at the grandchild and wonder, “Whom does this child look like? Certainly not me!” If one has a daughter or son who precariously has a child early in life, the issue of infertility may come up once again. The key here is awareness–the awareness that infertility issues may, indeed, arise again. Thus, the goal is to come to a “livable accommodation” with those issues.

To paraphrase the poet, Robert Frost, all of us have experienced an occasional yearning for the “road not traveled.” We wonder, “what if?” So, too, will our adopted children wonder, “What if my biological parents had raised me? How would my life be different?” However, this does not need to be a negative experience. Adoption can be an extremely healing option, as it tries to metamorphose joy and belonging from its roots in grief. Grief and loss frequently touch all three sides of the triad–the adoptive parents lose their dream of a biological child, the adoptive child loses his/her biological parents, and the biological parents lose their child. Adoption tries to reach for joy and belonging in the midst of loss–to become the phoenix rising from the flames to be reborn. Adoption does succeed as a healing force for the parties involved.

Embracing adoption as a means of family building does entail some “homework.” But then, so did infertility treatment. It requires educating oneself about the myths and realities of adoption as a process of nurturing an adoptive family. For those who require family support in order to pursue an adoption, the education component is crucial. One’s parents, in particular, may need to experience their own grieving process for the “lost biological grandchild” before they, too, can move forward to embrace the adoption process.

Financial issues associated with adoption may also be a source of anxiety for prospective adoptive parents. As one becomes more comfortable talking about adoption and shares that decision with others, the amount of support, both emotional and financial, can be quite surprising. I have had many clients who, after years of infertility treatment, decided to adopt. Their families, upon learning of their decision, helped to finance the adoption with joyful hearts. There was no sense of obligation in these gestures, for the family members received the blessing of a new grandchild, a cousin, a niece or a nephew to love.

A tiny minority of individuals has family members who adamantly oppose the thought of adoption. At this point, if family relations were to be maintained, perhaps even salvaged, turning to a professional counselor would probably be prudent. Further, agencies which offer seminars led by adoptive parents, birth parents, and adult adoptees are a good way to learn about the grief issues confronted by members of the adoption triad and to comprehend and empathize with those on the “other end” of adoption.

I must also add that, many times, the psychological intrusiveness of the adoption process, such as home study, background checks, and etc., can be rather daunting, given the physical intrusiveness of previous infertility treatment. It helps to remind oneself that the voluminous background information truly is gathered for the sake of the child-for his or her safety and well being. That helps to make the process more bearable.

An interesting fact about adoption is that it has a virtually 100% success rate in building families IF ONE COMMITS TO THE PROCESS. That does not mean that there may not be a withdrawn referral or a birth parent, who changes his/her mind about placing their child. In the end, however, children invariably are placed in families for those whose hearts are committed to parenthood. Infertility treatment cannot offer the same promise of family building.

By dealing with these grief and loss issues with sensitivity and awareness, one can provide a positive role model for their children. Our children can learn that by opening one door and closing another, one can surmount obstacles and strive toward the privilege of loving, and being loved by, a child. They can learn that the concept of “family” does not rest solely on biology. They can learn that love transcends many artificial boundaries frequently put into place by humans. They can learn that closing one door can open another door and another and another.

Credit: Adoption Today